Brexit's 31 October deadline nears as UK scrambles to fix divorce from EU: Crisis dominating global discourse explained

  • A contraction of 'British exit' and defined as 'the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it', the term 'Brexit' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in December 2016

  • The Brexit, at its inception, attempted to address three key issues that the UK had with its association to the European Union

  • The result of the referendum, which saw 52 percent voters choosing to leave the European Union, caused an unprecedented tumult in the island-nation

The Brexit crisis, which has dominated political discourse in Great Britain for more than three years since the first referendum on leaving the European Union was passed in June 2016, is far from resolved as the country's leadership throws spanner after spanner in the works of the chaotic process to divorce from the powerful bloc.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who is the third to hold the office ever since the government under David Cameron asked the general public whether to leave the EU, on Tuesday succeeded in his plan to suspend Britain's rebellious Parliament for five weeks, but has achieved little else in his first prolonged jousting with legislators determined to prevent a 'no-deal' Brexit.

The simmering showdown between Johnson and the Parliament over Brexit came to a head as lawmakers delivered three defeats to the government's plans for leaving the EU, before being sent home early Tuesday for a contentious five-week suspension of the legislature. Johnson, adopting a tough stand on the Brexit, has vowed to deliver the promise even if a divorce deal with the EU is not finalised.

 Brexits 31 October deadline nears as UK scrambles to fix divorce from EU: Crisis dominating global discourse explained

Representational image. AP

What is Brexit?

A contraction of 'British exit' and defined as "the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it", the term 'Brexit' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in December 2016. The UK joined the bloc in 1973, and held a 2016 referendum on its membership that was won by the “leave” side.

The Brexit, at its inception, attempted to address three key issues that the UK had with its association to the European Union.

The referendum, held on 23 June 2016, was based on the following factors: "Financial — the idea that both trade and economy would improve outside of the EU; immigration — the idea that the EU was letting in too many people and jobs and social services couldn’t keep up, which was picked up on by the UK Independence Party in its election campaign; principle — people wanted the UK to have more control over making decisions in its best interest," Global News reported.

The result of the referendum, which saw 52 percent voters choosing to leave the European Union, caused an unprecedented tumult in the island-nation. The UK entered its "worst political crisis since the 19th Century", as the "sterling crashed and markets panicked, Cameron resigned, triggering a bruising leadership contest riven with lies, double-dealing and accusations of dirty tricks."

Largely those who had voted to leave the EU were above the age of 50, which meant that the younger generations would have to bear the brunt of the consequences of the divorce the most. Additionally, the Brexit was supported by voters in England and Wales, while voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain with the bloc.

History of Brexit

The United Kingdom applied to be in the then-European Economic Community (EEC) in 1963, which France had voted against allowing Britain to join the bloc. The EEC was an attempt to "foster economic cooperation between European nations" after World War II. "Nations that traded together, it was believed, would be less likely to go to war with each other," History reported.

Two years after being included in the bloc in 1973, the UK indicated the likeliness to back out again. The referendum in 1975 saw a 67 percent vote to remain in the bloc.

The report by History noted, "Tensions between the EEC and the UK exploded in 1984, when the Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher talked tough in order to reduce British payments to the EEC budget. Though at the time the UK was the third-poorest nation in the Community, it was paying a lot more into the budget than other nations due to its relative lack of farms. Farm subsidies then made up some 70 percent of total EEC expenditures. The UK “rebate” negotiated by Thatcher remains in place today, and has reduced Britain’s contribution to the budget from more than 20 percent of the total in the ‘80s to about 12 percent."

Key elements of Brexit

Irish backstop

The 'Irish backstop', which,  in its original form required that Northern Ireland be kept very closely aligned to EU customs rules to remove the need for physical infrastructure or related checks on the Irish border after Brexit, has been one of the key bones of contention between the UK and the EU from the beginning.

Under the mechanism, the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union with the EU "unless and until" alternative arrangements are found to avoid a hard border. Many British lawmakers oppose the prospect of being bound to EU rules and customs duties that would prevent Britain doing its own trade deals and leave it overseen by EU judges.

Ireland says this is a key national interest as any checks or border infrastructure could undermine Northern Ireland's 1998 peace deal. Over 3,600 died in the three-decade conflict between unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain British and Irish nationalists who want Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland ruled from Dublin. The open border has helped defuse anger among Irish nationalists about British rule.

Johnson has made a fresh push to drop the so-called Irish backstop from the Brexit deal, renewing a demand the EU has repeatedly rejected. In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, Johnson said that the backstop — an insurance policy to keep the Irish border open after Britain leaves the European Union — was “anti-democratic”, and demanded its removal from the stalled divorce deal.

Divorce deals

Theresa May, who was the prime minister before Johnson and also lost her office to the Brexit crisis, had painstakingly negotiated several divorce deals with the bloc which were rejected repeatedly by the British Parliament.

In the first unveiling of her plan negotiated with the EU, "May pitched a 'hard Brexit', which would completely separate the UK from the EU. She outlined 12 priorities, which included limits on immigration, removing the U.K. from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and ending its membership of the customs union responsible for setting external tariffs for imported goods.

May set the stage for the negotiations to come, saying that Britain would leave even if no trade deal was reached. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she said," Global News reported.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Sep 11, 2019 19:20:22 IST